Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Like Opening a Treasure Box

Struggling in the university, unsure of his future, Eddie decided to follow his father's advice and take a year off from his studies. That year turned out to be a pivotal time in Eddie's life. 
As he wandered around the village wondering how to spend his time, a visitor arrived. Victor was from the Bible Translation Association of PNG and was looking for people to assist with the Mekeo Old Testament translation. Eddie agreed to help. 
The Mekeo New Testament had been completed in 1999. Eddie joined a team of Mekeo people who share the common goal of completing the Old Testament translation in their language. Verse by verse, they search for the best way to convey the meaning of each passage to their people. Sometimes it takes several tries to find just the right word. 
The True Treasure
When translating scriptures about the Ark of the Covenant, Eddi used the kofu, which means "box" in his heart language. However, this word didn't quite communicate how special and significant the Ark of the Covenant was to the people of Israel. He knew of another word, maufa, which referred to a special box, or a treasure box. Wondering if this word might fit, Eddie asked people in his village what they thought. They all agreed this was the best way to communicate the significance and value of the Ark of the Covenant. 

Eddie, too, is happy with including the word maufa. To the Israelites, the Ark of the Covenant was a precious possession because it held the stone tablets with God's law written on them. As Eddie translates, he finds God's book to be a rich treasure containing nuggets of wisdom and truth waiting to be discovered. One gem Eddie has found is peace. He testified, "When I am translating God's book it gives me a deep peace that I never had before." 
Papua New Guinean Boys
With a twinkle in his eye, Eddie elaborated, "Being engaged in translation is like opening a treasure box. It's something worth doing. You won't get rich in this life, but you will have true treasure in heaven.
*This story has been taken from the Papua New Guinea (PNG) blog

Monday, December 22, 2014

Come, and You will See

The following story is by a woman I met at a Wycliffe training (Equip) in Orlando, Florida last month. She is a sweet woman of God, and I am so glad I got to meet her and her beautiful family. And her story rings true with so many of my own experiences.

Alison first went to Tanzania with Wycliffe in 2006, serving as a linguist and literacy advisor. In 2012 she married Solomon Ngallaba, a Tanzanian. The Ngallabas are currently on furlough in the United States.

"It was December 2003 when I received a letter from Wycliffe Bible Translators accepting me as a missionary. As I reflect back on my calling into the ministry of Bible translation, I realize the Scripture God used to call me is just as relevant now as it was then.

Tanzania, Africa 
My journey to missions began in 2002 when I was working at Johnson University. I developed a thirst for learning more about the Bible. Even though I had a Bible degree from Johnson, I was excited about the Word in a new way and was thirsty for more. So I signed up to take Greek on my lunch break. One day a Bible translator spoke to our Greek class advocating for Bibleless people. I was shocked! I thought everyone had a Bible. (I grew up here in the 'Bible Belt,' after all.)

I kept thinking about the Bibleless people. I couldn't get them out of my mind. The Word meant so much to me; what would it be like to live without the Bible? But I didn't think I could possibly go.

This same semester, I attended Bible Study Fellowship on Monday nights. We were studying the Gospel of John. One verse captured my heart and convicted me, leading me into missions: in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, two of John's disciples saw Jesus pass by. They followed Him. Jesus knew He was being followed. He turned around and asked them, "What do you want?" They wanted to know where He was staying. Jesus' reply is what got me: "Come, and you will see."

Tanzania, Africa
Over the next nine or ten months, I thought of those Bibleless people. And I was filled with a long list of doubts and fears. "God, I don't speak any language except English." He replied, "Come, and you will see." "God, I've never lived anywhere but Tennessee. Can I really move overseas?" God replied, "Come, and you will see." "God, what if I get sick?" "Come, and you will see." "What if I miss my family?" "Come, and you will see." "What if something bad happens?" "Come, and you will see."

This continued until I finally said, "Yes, Lord. I will come!" I've never regretted that decision even for one day.

Now here I am, a decade later. I still find myself filled with doubts and fears. "God, what will it be like to live in teh United States for a year? I haven't lived here for that long since 2005." "Come, and you will see." "God, what will it be like being a mom and raising our daughter overseas?" "Come, and you will see." "How will we live in America on an African budget?" "Come, and you will see."

A silly photo of all of us from Equip
Just as it took me some months to say, "Yes, Lord, I'll come!" I find myself in that process again. I am slowly uncurling my anxiously clenched hands and letting God fill them. He is faithful and His words are true."

Amen. May we all come and see the goodness of God, the goodness that began before time, landed in a manger, and rose on a cross three days later. May we all come and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day 12: Greenland

A village in Greenland
The last stop on our 12-day adventure is Greenland. And, contrary to its name, it is actually quite cold. So get out your anorak (a traditional white coat lined with fur) for this freezing journey. There are two main languages spoken here-Inuit/Greenlandic and Danish. So there are two ways to say "Merry Christmas". In Greenlandic, it's Juullimi Ukiortaassamilu Pilluarit (say that ten times fast!), and in Danish it is Glædelig Jul.

Did you know that Christmas trees have to be imported because trees do not grow as far north as Greenland? The trees are often brought from Denmark, and then they're decorated with candles, bright ornaments, and sometimes even small versions of sealskin breeches known as kamiks on the night of December 23rd. If people don't buy an imported tree, they might use a traditional driftwood tree that's decorated with heather. Villages also put up a large Christmas tree on a nearby hill so that everyone can see it.

There are some interesting foods eaten during Christmas time. Mattak is whale skin with a strip of blubber inside (yum). It's supposed to taste like fresh coconut, but it's often too hard to chew, so people just swallow it. Another food is kiviak, the raw flesh of little aucks (a kind of arctic bird) that have been buried whole in sealskin for several months until they are really decomposed; this is a delicacy in Greenland.

People also eat suaasat (a soup/stew), barbecued caribou, fish (either raw like sushi or cooked), and a popular dessert made of berries and apples with a crisp topping. They also eat many Danish pastries. It's a tradition that on Christmas night men take care of the women, serving the food and coffee.

Like in Finland, some people say that Santa Claus lives in Greenland as well. Either that or it's where he goes for his summer holidays at least. People say that he as a home in the north of the country in Spraglebugten, near the town of Uummannaq. And because so many people believe Santa lives there, children actually send letters to him. The letters are addressed to the "North Pole," but they end up in the post office in Greenland's capital, Nuuk. Around 50,000 letters are sent to Santa every year. Another neat thing is that people there think Santa's sleigh isn't pulled by reindeers but by dogs.

Eskimo Children in Greenland
Fun Facts: 
*People often put lit-up stars in their windows to help bring some light, since the sun never rises in Greenland in the winter.

*Traditional gifts in Greenland are model sledges, a pair of polished walrus tusks or sealskin mittens. Everyone in the village receives a gift, and kids go from house to house singing songs for their neighbors.

Play “What’s that you’re passing?”
A popular Christmas game is passing an object from one hand to another under a long table, hidden beneath the table cloth. Traditionally the object is something that's supposed to feel gross (like a frozen egg, wrapped in strips of wet fox fur) and that's round, clammy, and rough. Next time your are at dinner, try playing this game. Find something that might feel funny in your hand and pass it around from one person to the next. After everyone's touched it, try guessing what it is.

*All of the above information has been taken from the Wycliffe-created characters, Kate and Mack. To sign up for more children activities or learn about the book they feature in (Around the World with Kate and Mack), click on this link: http://www2.wycliffe.org/a-z

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Day 11: Democratic Republic of the Congo

 We're on our second to last stop-the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Here "Merry Christmas" is Mbotama Malamu (this is in Lingala, the language spoken in the DRC and some other African countries).

Christmas is a big religious festival in DRC. On Christmas Eve, churches have large musical events (some with even five or six choirs that sing), and they perform a play ofthe nativity. These plays last a long time-they start at the beginning of the last night of creation and the Garden of Eden, and last all the way until King Herod has sent out the order that all baby boys should be killed. People like acting in this play, and they often try to make it fun and exciting.

Then, around midnight, Jesus is finally born. After that the shepherds visit, the wise men arrive, and Herod's order is sent out. The play usually ends around 1 a.m, but after that they often keep singing until dawn, which makes for a long night. Another service for Christmas Day begins at 9 a.m. with even more singing, but then the rest of the day is spent quietly, and lots of people enjoy a long nap after such a fun and long Christmas Eve night.

The Congo River in DRC
Fun Facts: 
* Since Christmas is a religious festival, most people don't give each other presents. The day is meant to remember the story of Jesus' birth and all that happened before then.

* There aren't any fancy foods eaten on Christmas Day, but people usually try to have a better meal than they usually do if they can afford it. That means they might add some chicken or pork to dinner, which is a special treat.

*All of the above information has been taken from the Wycliffe-created characters, Kate and Mack. To sign up for more children activities or to learn about the book these characters feature in (Around the World with Kate and Mack), click on this link: http://www2.wycliffe.org/a-z

Monday, December 15, 2014

Day 10: Philippines

From the cold of Russia to the warm tropics, we're visiting the Philippines to learn how they celebrate Christmas. Did you know that the Philippines celebrate Christmas over four months? They start celebrating as soon as the "ber" months start, in September. They keep celebrating until the middle of January, so the Philippines' celebration of Christmas is the longest in the world. In Tagalog (the language spoken most often in the Philippines) "Merry Christmas" is Maligayang Pasko.

Palawan Island, Philippines 
Christmas is a big holiday in the Philippines because the country is mostly Christian-in fact, it's the only Asian country with so many Jesus followers (around 80% or more are Catholic). The ways people celebrate are a mixture between American traditions and native Filipino traditions, so many people have a Christmas tree, sing Christmas carols, write Christmas cards and have Santa Claus deliver presents.

A parol
They also often attend nine masses called simbang gabi (or "night worship") beginning December 16th until Christmas Eve. These masses are often early in the morning and then people have breakfast together afterwards. But they also have their own traditions like the parol, or a lighted star lantern. It's often made from bamboo strips and colored paper or cellophane. The parol represents the star that guided the wise men to Jesus, and it's one of the most popular Christmas decorations.

Christmas Eve is very important, and many people stay awake all night. Christians go to church to hear the last simbang gabi (Christmas Eve mass). After the service they eat a midnight feast called Noche Buena. This sounds quite a bit like Spanish, and there are actually quite a few Spanish words used in Tagalog. This is because for many years Spain ruled the Philippines, so parts of the Spanish language are still used.


The Noche Buena is a big, open house celebration with family, friends, and neighbors dropping to wish everyone Maligayang Pasko. They eat foods like lechon (roasted pig), ham, fruit salad, steamed rice and sweets. They also drink salabat, a ginger tea, and eat bibingka, a traditional treat that is a thick yellow rice cake.

Fun Facts: 
*In the Philippines, people replace the words, "Happy Birthday" with Maligayang Pasko and sing it to the tune of the traditional happy birthday song.

*On Christmas Eve, people act out Joseph and Mary's search for a place to stay. It's called panunuluyan, and it's similar to the Mexican posadas.

Make your own parol!
Parols are beautiful star decorations that light up, and they're seen in many Filipino houses or stores as part of their Christmas decorations. They're usually big and bright, but here are steps for a smaller, simpler one.

*Popsicle sticks or cardboard
*Colored tissue paper

1. Glue your popsicle sticks together in the shape of a typical star.
2. Now add your tissue paper. You can either make it all the same color, or you can make every part of the star a different color. Glue the tissue paper in place however you wish it to look. Now you can hang it on your tree, above your fireplace, or by a window.

All of the above information has been taken from the Wycliffe-created characters, Kate and Mack. To sign up for more children's activities or find out about the book these characters feature in (Around the World with Kate and Mack), click on this link: http://www2.wycliffe.org/a-z

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Day 9: Russia

This is how I'd look in Russia in the winter too!
Well, we are here back in cold weather. We've already visited this part of the world before, when we came to Serbia, but now it's time to learn how Russia celebrates Christmas. Like Serbia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. And also like Serbia, this is because Russians follow the Julian, not the Gregorian, calendar. Russians also celebrate Advent (which begins Nov. 28th and ends on Jan. 6th, the day before Christmas).

On Christmas Eve some people fast until they see the first star appear in the sky. But when they do eat, it's foods like sochivo or kutia, a porridge that's made from wheat or rice and served with honey, poppy seeds, fruit (usu. berries and raisins), chopped walnuts, and sometimes fruit jellies.   Kutia is sometimes eaten from one bowl that everyone shares, which represents unity among them. In the past, some families would throw a sochivo up on the ceiling, and if it stuck, they thought they'd have good luck and a good harvest.

Sauerkraut is a main dish on Christmas Eve, and it's served with cranberries, cumin, shredded carrot and onion rings. After that, people might eat vegetable pies or porridge dishes. For dessert there's fruit pies, gingerbread and pryaniki (Russian spice cookies), fresh and dried fruit, and more nuts. To finish the meal, people drink vzvar (which means "boil-up"), and it's a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey boiled in water. Vzvar is traditionally drunk at the birth of a child, so at Christmas time it symbolizes the birth of Jesus.

After drinking the vzvar, families say prayers and often go to a midnight church service. Christmas is important in Russia, but sometimes the New Year celebrations are even more important. New Year's is when "Father Frost" brings presents. In Russia he's called Ded Moroz, and his granddaughter, the "Snow Maiden" (or snegurochka in Russian), always comes with him. On New Year's Eve kids hold hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree, and call for Ded Moroz and Snegurochka. When they come, the star and other lights on the Christmas tree light up.

Fun Facts: 
*Tradition calls the Christmas Eve meal "Holy Supper," and 12 dishes are served (one to honor each of the 12 apostles of Jesus).
*In 1992, Christmas became a national holiday in Russia. People get 10 days off-from December 31st to January 10th-to celebrate both Christmas and the New Year.

Make your Own Pryaniki! 
Pryaniki are Russian spice cookies served with tea at Christmas time. They're often simple round cookies covered with a flat icing, but you can use fun Christmas cookie cutters if you would like. These cookies have been made since the 9th century, and if they've lasted that long, they must be delicious.

Russian Spice Cookies
* 3 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
* 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
* 1/2 teaspoon allspice
* Dash of salt
* 2 large egg yolks
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* 1 cup granulated sugar
* 1 cup honey
* 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice and salt.
2. In a separate big bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer until they are pale yellow and thick looking.
3. In a small saucepan, heat the honey over low heat until it liquefies. Let it cool slightly so the heat doesn't scramble the eggs, and then stir the melted honey and vanilla into the beaten egg mixture.
4. Now mix in the dry ingredients to form a stiff dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let it refrigerate for one hour.
5. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
6. Place parchment paper on your cookie sheet so that you have a clean surface.
7. Scoop out the cookies, and place them on the sheet. Make sure you leave some room between cookies so they don't merge.
8. Lightly brush the tops of the cookies with honey.
9. Bake for 10-20 minutes, or until they're lightly golden brown.
10. In a bowl, add the confectioners' sugar and enough water (about 1 to 2 tablespoons) and whisk it together to form a thin icing. When the cookies are cool, spread the icing on the top of them.

*All of the above information has been taken from the Wycliffe-created characters, Kate and Mack. If you would like to sign up for more children's activities, or learn about the book they feature in (Around the World with Kate and Mack), click on this link: http://www2.wycliffe.org/a-z


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Day 8: Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina 
Well here we are, back in the Americas. Spanish is spoken in Argentina just like in Mexico, so we already know how to say "Merry Christmas" (Feliz Navidad).

The Christmas season here starts early-sometimes even in November. Many people in Argentina are Catholic, so they celebrate Advent. People decorate their houses with lights and wreaths of green, gold, red, and white flowers. They also hang red and white garlands on the doors of their houses. Christmas trees are popular, and people often decorate them by December 8th, the day they celebrate the feast of Annunciation (the day that they remember when Mary was told that she was going to have Jesus).

Flan Leche de Dulce
The Nativity scene, or pesebre, in Spanish, is another important decoration to have, and it's usually put near the Christmas tree. The big meal at Christmas is actually eaten on the night of Christmas Eve, and it might even be a barbecue (yes, just like the Aussies). People like to have their big Christmas meal out in the open, so they often eat it out in their garden. And since it's warm, they can do that. They often eat roasted turkey or pork, stuffed tomatoes and Christmas bread and puddings like dulce. They also drink delicious cider.

Globos on Christmas Eve (like in Tangled :)
At midnight there are lots of fireworks that people light off to celebrate the beginning of Christmas Day. Some people go to a midnight church service, but others like to stay home, set off fireworks and open their presents. Globos, or paper decorations with a light inside that float into the sky, are popular in Argentina. The sky is filled with them on Christmas Eve after midnight.

Fun Facts 
*Christmas trees don't have to just be like the traditional tree in Argentina. Any kind of tree works-even a palm tree.

*It's warm during Christmas time in Argentina, so there isn't any snow, but people like to put cotton balls on their Christmas trees to look like snow instead.

*Kids get their presents on January 6th, the day that is know as "Three Kings Day." The night before kids place their shoes outside the front door so that the wise men can fill them. They also leave hay and water for the horses as the wise men continue journeying towards Bethlehem. Sometimes they also place their shoes underneath the Christmas tree or under their bed.

How to Make your own Christmas Cider
Hot apple cider is a common holiday drink in many places in the world, and Argentinians enjoy it at the end of their Christmas dinner. They also like to mix it with fruit, cut into little pieces. When you're done making it, put in little pieces of apple or even a small slice of orange.

* 1 quart apple juice
* 2 cups water
* 5 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 orange (sliced, with the skin on)
1. In a large pot combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil.
2. Once it’s boiling, turn it to low and let it simmer for 15 minutes
or so.

Ladle the cider into mugs (it makes six cups), and don't forget to add chunks of apples or oranges if you are so inclined.

*All of the above information has been taken from the Wycliffe-created characters, Kate and Mack. If you would like to sign up for more children's activities, or learn about the book they feature in (Around the World with Kate and Mack), click on this link: http://www2.wycliffe.org/a-z.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Day 7: Australia

Christmas celebrated Down Under is different than what so many movies make Christmas look like. It's not snowing, and there's no "white Christmas" for Australia-instead, Christmas comes right in the middle of their summer holidays. For them, their warm months are over Christmas, and their cold months are during our summer, so many Aussies (such a fun word!) spend their Christmas break camping or on the beach.

Even though it's hot during the Christmas season, many Aussies still hang wreaths on their front doors and go caroling on Christmas Eve. They also decorate their houses with Christmas trees and lights, and sometimes neighbors have competitions to see who has the best light display. Neighbors go and visit each other's houses at night to look at the different light displays-sometimes starting even as early as December 1st.

People think that when Santa Clause arrives in Australia, he lets his reindeer have a rest and instead uses kangaroos. He also changes his clothes for less hot ones and enjoys some well-earned time on the beach. The main meal on Christmas Day is eaten at lunch. Sometimes people have Christmas barbecues with seafood, like prawns and lobsters. But traditional Christmas meals are also prepared and include ham, roast turkey or chicken, salads, vegetables and other delicious foods.

Sydney, Australia 
Fun Facts: 
*One street in Sydney works together to make beautiful light displays on their houses, and they raise over $35,000 (Australian dollars) every year for a charity.

*Carol services-called "Carols by Candlelight"-are held in state capital cities, and they're broadcast on TV for other people to see.

Make some Delcious Pavlova
Pavlova is a dessert that's often part of the Christmas Day meal in Australia. It's a crisp white meringue that's topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

*4 egg whites
*1 1/4 cups white sugar
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*1 teaspoon lemon juice
*2 teaspoons cornstarch
*Whipped cream
*Mixed fruit (whatever you like-strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, kiwi, mangoes, etc.)  

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 9-inch circle on the parchment paper.
3. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they're stiff but not dry.
4. Gradually add sugar (about 1 tablespoon at a time), beating well until thick and glossy.
5. Gently fold in vanilla extract, lemon juice and cornstarch.
6. Now you can spoon the mixture inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper. Spread the mixture toward the outside edge, working from the middle so that the edge gets slightly higher. This will act as a rim, and it will almost look like a shallow bowl.
7. Bake for 1 hour. When it's done, cool it on a wire rack.
8. Once it's cool, you can fill the center of the meringue with the whipped cream and fruit.

*All of the above information has been taken from the Wycliffe-created characters, Kate and Mack. If you would like to sign up for more children's activities or learn about the book they feature in (Around the World with Kate and Mack), clink on this link: http://www2.wycliffe.org/a-z

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Day 6: Greece

Santorini, Greece
We're almost halfway through our travels, and today we're visiting Greece. In Greece, Merry Christmas is Kala Christouyenna, and in Greek it looks like this: Καλά

Christmas trees aren't traditional in Greece, but they're becoming more popular. Instead, most houses have a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire hanging across the rim. They hang a wooden cross on the wire with a little bunch of basil on it, and some water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil fresh. Once a day, someone in the family dips the cross and basil into holy water and sprinkles it around each room in the house.

This is done to keep the Killantzaroi (bad spirits) away. It's believed that these bad spirits come during the 12 day period from Christmas to Epiphany (celebrated on January 6th), and they supposedly come from the middle of the earth and get into people's houses through the chimney. They like to do mischievous things like put out fires or make milk go bad, so Greeks keep a fire burning throughout those 12 days because they believe it will keep the Killantzaroi away.

Going to a midnight mass service is very important to most Greeks, and afterwards they return home and end their Advent fast. The next day they often eat lamb or pork that's roasted in an oven or over a spit. The meat is served with a spinach and cheese dish, and yummy salads and vegetables. For dessert they might have baklava or other sweet pastries.

Fun Facts: 
*Every December a huge Christmas tree and a three-mast sailing ship are put up in Aristotleous Square in the city of Thessaloniki, which is a main stop for tourists.

*Christopsomo (Christ bread) is used as a table decoration on Christmas day. It's a round, sweet loaf and the crust is often decorated with what the family does for a living (ex. fishermen would decorate their bread with fish).

*Epiphany (also known as "The Blessings of the Waters") is celebrated on January 6th by those in the Greek Orthodox Church, and it celebrates Jesus' baptism. There are lots of events across Greece where young men dive into cold lakes, rivers or the sea to try to be the first to get a cross that was bless by a priest and thrown into the water. They believe that if you find the cross, you'll have good luck the coming year.

The three-masted ship in Thessaloniki
*"The Christmas Boat" (or karavaki in Greek) has been around for many years. The tradition goes back to when kids-especially boys-go singing kalanda (carols) in the streets on Christmas Eve. They play drums and triangles as they sing, and sometimes they'll even carry model boats that they've decorated  with gold-painted nuts. If the kids sing well, people might give them money, nuts, sweets, or even dried figs. The kids sometimes are able to fit the small treats into the model boats they carry with them.

Today people like to decorate small model wood or paper boats with lights and ornaments during the Christmas season. Traditionally the boats are placed near the door or fire with the bow pointing inwards.

*All of the above information has been taken from Wycliffe-created characters, Kate and Mack. If you would like to sign up for more children activities or learn about the book they feature in (Around the World with Kate and Mack), click on this link: http://www2.wycliffe.org/a-z

Monday, December 8, 2014

Day 5: Ghana

A village in Ghana
From the land of Serbia we're heading to Ghana, where Christmas is celebrated for almost two whole weeks! The celebration starts on December 20 and goes until the first week of January, and lots of different activities happen during those two weeks.

Many people travel to visit their friends and family in other parts of the country. There are over 80 languages spoken in Ghana, and many of these language groups have their own Christmas traditions. But the night of Christmas Eve is when the celebration really starts. Church services are held, and there is lots of drumming and dancing. Kids often put together a skit about the nativity story, and choirs sing special songs. These songs are usually sung in languages that people understand best (their mother tongue). Sometimes these services can last the entire night.

Ghana girls in traditional clothes
On Christmas Day people come back to church dressed in their bright traditional clothes that are often made from kente cloth. After the service is over, they go back to their houses and exchange gifts. They also have traditional foods they eat like stew or okra soup, porridge, meat, rice, and a yam paste called fufu.

Sometimes people also go to church on December 31st to thank God for sending Jesus and to pray for a good New Year. They might also remember their loved ones who died that year, praying that the troubles and difficulties they had this year won't happen in the New Year. Like many people in Ghana, let's remember to keep Jesus at the center of our celebrations.

Fun Facts: 
Cocoa Beans
*December is an important month in Ghana because it's the start of the cocoa harvest. Did you know that Ghana is the second biggest cocoa producer in the world?
*Sometimes people celebrate Christmas Eve by setting off fireworks. Why don't we do that here?
*Kente cloth is a traditional fabric worn in many parts of Ghana. It's beautiful and bright, and it's become an icon of African cultural heritage around the world. Kente cloth is often known by its multicolored patterns, geometric shapes and bold designs.

*All of the above information has been taken from the Wycliffe-created characters, Kate and Mack. If you would like to sign up for more children activities or learn about the book they feature in (Around the World with Kate and Mack), click on this link: http://www2.wycliffe.org/a-z

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Day 4: Serbia

Onwards to Serbia! Did you know that Serbians celebrate Christmas on January 7? The reason they celebrate on this day is because they still follow the Julian calendar, which is different than the Gregorian calendar that most people use. (The Julian calendar was used first, but now most people use the Gregorian calendar, or the "Christian calendar").

There are a lot of different Christmas traditions in Serbia, and sometimes the ones they celebrate depend on where you live in the country. Many people spend the six weeks counting up to Christmas celebrating Advent, which starts four Sundays before Christmas. Advent means "coming" in Latin, so it's literally celebrating the coming of Jesus into the world. During Advent, some people fast or they don't eat food that comes from animals like meat, milk, eggs, etc. Christmas Eve is the last day of the fast, and that night people come together to have dinner, but they still don't eat the above-mentioned foods.

Children breaking the traditional Christmas bread
After Christmas Eve dinner, groups of kids go from house to house knocking on the door, and when it's answered they ask if they can sing. If the neighbor says yes, they sing a Christmas song. As a reward, the neighbor gives the kids candies or sometimes money, and more traditional gifts could include walnuts, prunes, apples and cakes.

One special food that Serbians eat at Christmas is bread called cesnica. Everyone in the family gets a piece, and there is a coin hidden inside the loaf of bread. Whoever finds the coin in their piece is believed to have extra good luck that year.

In Serbian, "Merry Christmas" is Hristos se rodi (with the English alphabet, of course). IN the Cyrillic alphabet, it looks like this: Христос се роди. Serbians also have special greetings they use during the three days of their Christmas celebration. When they see someone, they say, "Christ is born." And the person responds with, "Truly he is born."

Fun Facts: 
*Traditionally on the morning of Christmas Eve, the father of the family

would go into the woods to cut a young oak tree down, but now
people just buy one. They burn this log in the fire, and after the father
A view of Croatia's Risnjak National Park
pours wine or throws wheat grains over the logs, he proposes a toast: “Grant, O God, that there be health and joy in this home, that our grain and grapevines yield well, that children be born healthy to us, that our property increase in the field, pen and barn!”

*People also put some straw under the table so they remember that Jesus was born in a stable. The day after Christmas, the straw is taken
out of the house and little bundles are made with it. Serbians hang these bundles on fruit trees in hopes that they’ll make more fruit next
harvest season!

*Giving gifts on Christmas isn’t a tradition in Serbia. Instead, gifts are
given the three Sundays before Christmas Day. Tradition says that on the first Sunday kids give gifts; on the second married women give gifts; and on the third married men give gifts. Today people don’t always follow this tradition, but this is how Christmas was celebrated for many years in Serbia.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Day 3: Japan

A Temple in Kyoto
From Finland we're traveling to Japan, our first stop in Asia. Did you know that Christmas hasn't always been celebrated in Japan? This is because there aren't many Christians in this country, so it is not celebrated by everyone. But over the years, a few Christmas traditions from the United States have come to Japan, like giving presents or Christmas cards. And because many people are not Christians, Christmas has become a time of spreading happiness rather than celebrating Jesus' birth, which is of course the true meaning of Christmas.

Fried chicken is often eaten on Christmas Day, and people will place orders at KFC months before December. This tradition first began in the 1970s, and now it is done every year. They also eat Japanese Christmas cake, a sponge cake that is decorated with strawberries and whipped cream (now that does sound delicious). 

Japanese Christmas Cake
The Japanese New Year (called Shogatsu or Oshogatsu in Japanese) is a bigger holiday in Japan than Christmas, and it's celebrated more than Christmas Day. Families get together, have a special meal, pray and send each other cards. It's celebrated over five days-from December 31st to January 4th-and it is a very busy time for people in Japan. 

Fun Facts:
*Christmas Eve is celebrated more than Christmas Day because people celebrate it as a romantic day, and couples spend time together and give presents. It's a lot like the U.S.'s Valentine's Day. In fact, so many people have romantic dinners at restaurants that it can be difficult to find a table if you haven't made a reservation.
*Christmas day isn't a national holiday in Japan, and kids still have to go to school. But on December 23, people celebrate the birthday of the current emperor, Akihito, and that's a national holiday instead. 

Put the Nose on the Face!
Since Christmas isn't as big as the Japanese New Year, they often play a traditional New Year's game called Fukuwarai, or "Lucky Laugh" in English. This game is a lot like "Pin the Tail on the Donkey." The goal is to put the different parts of the face onto a blank face while wearing a blindfold. So go draw the different parts of someone's face and try to put them together while not looking. 

 All of the above information has been taken from the Wycliffe-created characters, Kate and Mack. If you would like to sign up for more children activities or learn about the book they feature in (Around the World with Kate and Mack), click on this link: http://www2.wycliffe.org/a-z


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Day 2: Finland

Finland in Winter

Next stop Finland! Before we learn about Finnish traditions, let's learn how to say 'Merry Christmas' in Finnish. It's Hyvaa Joulua.

Some people believe that Santa Claus come from Finland and lives in he northern part of the country, north of the Arctic Circle. People from all over the world send letters to Finland, hoping they'll arrive at Father Christmas' house. There's even a big theme park called 'Christmas Land' near where it's said that Father Christmas lives.

Everyone tries to be at home for Christmas-even the fishermen try to dock their boats by December 21st. People clean their houses for the three special days of Christmas-Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day- and make special treats to eat. They also make a sheaf of grain, nuts and seed that are tied on a pole so that the birds can enjoy food too.
Christmas Land

On Christmas Eve morning, people traditionally eat rice porridge and drink plum fruit juice (yum!). They'll then spend the day decorating a spruce tree with candles, apples, fruit, candies, paper flags, stars, cotton and tinsel. A star is put on the top of the tree to remind them of the Star of Bethlehem. In the afternoon, a ceremony is broadcast on the radio and TV. It starts with the hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" and then the "Declaration of Christmas Peace" is read. It talks about the birth of Jesus and how everyone should be peaceful and joyous on this special day. The ceremony ends with trumpets playing the Finnish national anthem.

That night, they dress up for Christmas dinner, which usually begins between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., or traditionally when the first star is seen in the sky. They eat a traditional Christmas dinner: including casseroles made of macaroni, rutabaga, carrot and potato, cooked ham or turkey, and lots of other delicious food. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve after dinner, and then Christmas Day starts very early-at 6 a.m. with a special church service.

Fun Facts:
*Finnish people believe that Father Christmas doesn’t have to travel very
far on Christmas Eve to deliver presents since he lives so close to them.

*Tradition says that Father Christmas will deliver the presents himself,
maybe even with a handful of elves! Because of this belief, kids don’t
hang Christmas stockings.

*Christmas Eve is the biggest day of the Christmas season, because it’s
the day that Father Christmas comes.

Make a Finnish Paper Star for your Tree!
*Paper (you can use whatever paper you want, but the prettier the
A Finnish Paper Star (and no, I didn't make this :)
better! A 12 x 12 sheet of scrapbook paper is perfect.) You can also
use felt if you want your star to last for years.
*Pencil & eraser
*Optional: clothes pins or paper clips to hold the ends in place
while the glue dries

*Optional: glitter

1. Measure out 12 strips that are 12 inches long and 3/4 inches wide. (This will make a big star. If you want to make a smaller tree ornament, cut 12 strips that are 6 inches long and 1/2 inch wide).
Measure out 12 strips that are 12 inches long and ¾ inches wide.

2. Cut out the strips. If you want to add glitter to your paper, now is a good time! Get out the glue and make your strips pretty.

3. Weave six strips together into an X. Make sure that they weave together at the very center of the strips.

4. Glue the two strips together that from an "L" (or backwards "L") in the X shape. Do this on all four sides. Now almost all of your strips should be glued together, except for four strips that make a cross.

5. Now take your other six strips and repeat steps 3 and 4. You'll have two pieces that look exactly the same. These are your star halves.

6. Lay one of the star halves on top of the other star, making the curved loop match up with a straight piece of paper.

I didn't make this one either

7. Weave the two straight edges closest to each other through the loops and glue them together. Do this for all of the straight pieces of paper. Then glue the centers together. Now just add a string and hang your star-on your tree, by your window, or wherever you wish!

All of the above information has been taken from the Wycliffe-created characters, Kate and Mack. If you would like to sign up for more children activities or learn about the book these characters feature in (Around the World with Kate and Mack), click on this link: http://www2.wycliffe.org/a-z